12 Shocking True Crime Stories of America’s Worst Serial Killers;
Roger Kibbe: Serial strangler who preyed on stranded female motorists along California’s I-5 freeway.
Roger Kibbe: Serial strangler who preyed on stranded female motorists along California’s I-5 freeway.
The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run: A still unidentified monster who carried out a series of mutilation murders in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jane Toppan: A deeply disturbed nurse with a terrifying ambition - to kill more people than anyone else ever had.
Joseph Naso: When 69-year-old Joseph Naso was arrested for shoplifting, the police had no inkling of what they’d discover about his deadly past.
Glennon Engleman: Dentist by day, hitman and murder-for-profit killer by night, Engleman was responsible for at least seven deaths.
Dana Sue Gray: The barely believable story of a female psychopath who killed so that she could treat herself to shopping sprees on her victims’ credit cards.
John Muhammad & Lee Malvo: The Beltway snipers conducted a cross-country killing spree, ending with a deadly siege of the nation’s capital.
Ronald Dominique: Known as the Bayou Strangler, Dominique raped and murdered as many as 23 men in Houma, Louisiana.
Joseph Paul Franklin: A racially motivated serial killer, Franklin targeted mixed race couples, ruthlessly gunning them down in a cross-country rampage.
Gerald Patrick Lewis: Obsessed by the girlfriend who had deserted him, Lewis took his revenge on women who resembled his lost love.
Lydia Sherman: A prolific poisoner who cold-bloodedly murdered husbands and children, claiming at least ten victims.
Gary Alan Walker: Traveling serial killer who rampaged across Oklahoma in a spree of rape and murder that left five victims brutally slain.
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American Monsters Volume12
The I-5 Strangler
“So I killed a few women, what's the big deal?” – Roger Kibbe
The highways of southern California have produced more than their share of roaming serial killers over the years. Some, like the unholy trinity of Kearney, Bonin and Kraft have attained lasting infamy. Others – Roger Kibbe for example – are less well-known. And yet the ‘I-5 Strangler’ was every bit as depraved as the aforementioned trio, if somewhat less prolific. For a period during the mid-eighties he turned the freeways around Sacramento into his personal killing fields. Any woman driving that stretch of road was fair game to this marauding psychopath. And at least seven met with a horrific fate at his hands.
On a beautiful summer’s day in July 1986, a fisherman was walking along a trail outside of Sacramento, California, when he spotted the semi-nude body of a woman floating face down in an irrigation ditch. The man scampered down the bank to see if he could help but it was soon clear to him that the woman was dead. He then ran back to his truck and drove to a nearby gas station to call the police.
Officers of the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department were soon on the scene and quickly determined that the deceased was a young woman in her late teens to early twenties. Bruises on the neck suggested that she’d died from ligature strangulation, while the condition of the body led detectives to the conclusion that she’d been there less than 24 hours. This would later be confirmed by the medical examiner. But who was she? Since no purse or identification was found at the scene, the police could only hope that someone had reported her missing. Someone had. She was 19-year-old Stephanie Brown and her parents had filed a missing person’s report the previous day, July 15. Stephanie had been driving home from her boyfriend’s house when she’d disappeared. The road she’d been traveling was the I-5.
A month after the murder of Stephanie Brown, 26-year-old Charmaine Sabrah and her mother Carmen Anselmi were driving home from a family dinner when their Pontiac Grand Prix quit on them. And they could not have chosen a worse place to break down. The junction of Peltier Road and the I-5 is a desolate stretch of highway at the best of times. At 3:30 in the morning it was deserted. All Charmaine could do was to turn on her hazard lights and hope that some passing Good Samaritan would stop and offer assistance.
As it turned out, luck appeared to be with them. After just a few minutes a man stopped behind them in a white sports car. He seemed friendly enough so when he offered to drive them to the nearest gas station to call a friend, they accepted. His car however was only a two-seater so the man said that he could only take one passenger. Carmen agreed to accompany him, leaving her daughter behind at their disabled vehicle.
Some twenty minutes later, Carmen and the man returned and Carmen told Charmaine that she’d been unable to get through to anyone at this time of the morning. The man then made another suggestion. He said that he could drive one of them home and then return for the other. Again, the women made a quick assessment of the situation and decided that there was no other option. The man after all had been good enough to stop and he appeared unthreatening. This time Charmaine went first, leaving Carmen behind.
But the roadster’s taillights had barely faded into the distance when Carmen began to regret the decision. And regret soon grew to apprehension as an hour passed with no sign of the man returning. By the time a California Highway Patrolman stopped to rescue her some ninety minutes later, Carmen was beside herself with worry. How could she have been so stupid? How could she have allowed her daughter to get into a car with a total stranger? She urged the officer to bring her to her apartment as quickly as possible, hoping against hope that Charmaine would be there to greet her when she arrived. But the apartment was empty and there was no indication that Charmaine had ever made it home. When Charmaine Sabrah’s decomposed body was found some three months later in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, the ligature that had ended her life was still looped around her neck.
Two women had now been abducted from the same stretch of highway and had both been strangled and then dumped in a remote area. And there were other commonalities to the crime scenes. The killer had made some strange cuts to the victims’ clothing, possibly with a pair of scissors. And the knots he’d used in the ligatures and restraints were also unusual. That pointed to a common perpetrator. Already the police were beginning to fear that a serial killer was stalking the I-5. They’d soon have further evidence to back up that fear.
On September 6 the badly decomposed remains of a white female were found alongside the I-5, not far from where Stephanie Brown's body had been dumped. Dental records identified her as 21-year-old Lora Heedick, a known prostitute and drug user who’d last been seen alive on April 20. Cuts to her clothing and knots in the binding on her wrists marked her out as another victim of the I-5 Strangler, possibly his first. That however was as much as the police were able to learn from the crime scene. Lora’s boyfriend, a lowlife named James Driggers, was briefly considered a suspect but was subsequently cleared. According to Driggers, Lora had left for a ‘date’ with a man driving a white two-seater and had never returned. A similar vehicle had been described by Carmen Anselmi, confirming what the police already knew. Their killer was mobile and was trolling for easy prey along the Interstate.
With this in mind, investigators took the decision to deploy undercover officers along the highway posing as distressed motorists, in the hope of luring the killer out. They also broadcast warnings via the media cautioning women not to accept help from strangers, especially along the I-5. Then, with panic spreading among the female population of Sacramento County, the police caught an unexpected break in the case when they pulled over a furniture salesman named Roger Kibbe on a traffic violation. Kibbe was driving a white roadster and he bore a resemblance to the man described by Carmen Anselmi and James Driggers. He was also no stranger to law enforcement, having been questioned in an unrelated case involving another missing woman.
Hauled in for questioning, Kibbe admitted that he sometimes used prostitutes and also that he regularly traveled the I-5 on route to visit his brother in Tahoe. The brother as it turned out was a homicide detective and he conceded that Roger often quizzed him about the procedures investigators followed during an investigation. He insisted however that Kibbe could not have committed the murders. “Roger’s not your guy,” he told his police colleagues. The investigators didn’t know if that declaration was made out of loyalty or genuine conviction but in any case, they had nothing on Kibbe beyond circumstantial evidence. He drove a similar car to the killer and matched a fairly vague description. He traveled the road along which the murders had occurred. None of it would stand up in a court of law. Kibbe was freed. A short while later the murders resumed.
Twenty-five-year-old Karen Finch had every reason to feel positive about the future. The young mother had just started a new job and was dating a wonderful man who she hoped one day to marry. Life had taken a decided upturn. Then on June 14, 1987, Karen dropped off her two-year-old daughter with her ex-husband and vanished. Her car was later found abandoned near the I-5.
The police of course were immediately concerned that Karen might have fallen victim to the I-5 Strangler. But there were other suspects to be interviewed, the ex-husband and the current boyfriend for a start. While a search went on for Karen, both of these men were cleared of involvement in her disappearance. A couple of days later the police got the news they’d been dreading. A family had been driving east towards Sacramento and had stopped near Echo Summit to go for a walk. They’d not gone far when they made a horrific discovery, the naked body of a woman discarded in a ditch. It was Karen Finch.
The killing of Karen Finch was different to the other murders. This time the killer had used a knife to slash through her throat, inflicting two deep wounds. But there were other clues that marked this murder out as part of the series, like the way the victim’s clothes were slashed and the knots that had been used to bind her. So why had the Strangler resorted to using a knife? The investigators had an idea and it was a terrifying one. The killer was escalating, increasing the level of violence inflicted on his victims. If they didn’t catch him soon, more women were going to die.
A year had now passed since the day that Stephanie Brown’s brutalized corpse had been found in the irrigation ditch. In that time three more women had died and another body had been discovered. The police had also identified a possible suspect but had no evidence to tie him to any of the deaths. Investigators were badly in need of a break. Three weeks after the Finch murder, they got one.
On July 7, 1987, 29-year-old prostitute Debra Guffie was picked up by a man in a white roadster. She suggested that they get a room at a nearby motel but the man declined and spent the next ten minutes driving aimlessly without saying a word. Then he brought the car to a stop on a quiet street and immediately turned on his passenger, grabbing her by the throat and slamming her head against the dashboard. Still stunned by the blow, Debra felt the man’s hand close on her wrist and in the next moment she heard the click of handcuffs.
Debra had been on the streets long enough to know what was going on. The man was trying to incapacitate her and if he succeeded she’d be entirely at his mercy. That realization made her fight back, striking out with her nails and screaming for all she was worth. Fortunately for her a police cruiser passed at just that moment, causing her assailant to break off the attack and drive away with the patrol car in pursuit. He was cornered just a few blocks away and arrested on the spot.
The Strangler task team was of course very interested to hear of Roger Kibbe’s arrest. Now at last they had the opportunity to go through his car, looking for evidence that might tie him to the I-5 murders. Before they could do that however, there was news of another tragic discovery. A jogger had come across the nude body of a young female in the woods in El Dorado County. She was 17-year-old Darcie Frackenpohl, a runaway from Seattle who had recently been working in Sacramento as a prostitute. Darcie had been choked to death with a garrote fashioned from a white nylon rope with dowels at either end – a variation on the Strangler’s usual method. Other indicators were consistent though, the cuts to the victim's clothing and the unique knots.
Back in Sacramento, Roger Kibbe’s car was also giving up some interesting leads – a pair of handcuffs, a vibrator, a pair of scissors and most importantly, two 6-inch lengths of dowel, one of which had a white nylon cord looped around the end of it. This of course was similar to the garrote that had been used on Darcie Frackenpohl. Investigators immediately got to work trying to identify the rope’s origin and soon discovered that it was of the kind used on parachutes.
The latter piece of evidence felt like a major breakthrough to the police. Kibbe they knew was a keen skydiver. When similar rope was found at his home, the investigators thought that they eventually had him. The district attorney unfortunately did not share their enthusiasm. He called the evidence weak and circumstantial and advised the detectives to bring him something on which to build a case that would stick. Kibbe was free to go, pending his date in court on assault charges.
Kibbe may have been back on the streets but the I-5 Strangler task team was still convinced that he was their man. They were also determined that he would never have the opportunity to kill again and so he was placed under 24-hour surveillance while detectives began digging into his background, hoping for something that might provide a break. What they found could have been a handbook on the making of a psychopath.
Roger Kibbe it seemed had always had difficult relationships with women, starting with his mother. She appeared to have had very little love for her son and beat him regularly for any minor infraction and sometimes just for the sport of it. As a result, Kibbe developed a stutter, something for which he was mercilessly teased by his schoolmates. An outcast at school and an abuse victim at home, Kibbe struck back by becoming a habitual thief, something that would lead to his first arrest at age 15.
The items stolen in this instance were a dress, two bathing suits and several pairs of nylon stockings that had been snatched from neighborhood washing lines. Also found in Kibbe’s possession were numerous items of female apparel, stolen over the previous year. The juvenile Kibbe had admitted at the time that he sometimes liked to dress up in woman’s underwear but there was one other detail which made the I-5 investigators sit up and pay attention All of the clothing items bore peculiar cuts, inflicted with a pair of scissors. Similar cuts had of course been made to the undergarments of the I-5 Strangler victims.
Moving forward to Kibbe’s adult life, the investigators discovered another red flag – Kibbe’s relationship with his wife Harriet. This it seemed mirrored the one he’d had with his mother. Harriett was said to be an angry, domineering woman who was consistently mean to her husband and controlled every aspect of his life. Might this be the source of his anger towards women? The detectives thought so. They also realized that no matter how compelling that motive might be, it would not make their case. They were going to need hard evidence. To get it they turned to trace evidence specialist Faye Springer.
One of the binding principles of forensic science is that “Every contact leaves a trace.” Thus if the rope used in the Frackenpohl murder had been handled by Roger Kibbe, then it must contain microscopic fibers and other trace elements that were present also in his home and car. In order to find this evidence the rope was subjected to analysis under a high-powered microscope.
This is highly skilled work. The analyst is literally looking for a needle in a haystack. Springer however soon identified a fungal spore that matched spores found on the floor mat of Kibbe's car. And that was only the start. A hair found on the victim's dress proved to be microscopically consistent with hair from Kibbe's inner thigh. Other hairs were matched to Kibbe’s pet cats and there were fibers on Darcie’s pantyhose that were microscopically similar to fibers from the seats of Kibbe's roadster. Additionally, there were microscopic flecks of red and black paint. The same flecks were present on the rope found in Kibbe’s vehicle and in his house. The I-5 Strangler had been caught at last.
Roger Kibbe went on trial in El Dorado County, California on February 14, 1991, charged only with one count of murder, that of Darcie Frackenpohl. The prosecutor was however allowed to offer evidence relating to the other murders since this illustrated the killer’s pattern of behavior. When Faye Springer’s forensic evidence was thrown into the mix, there could be little doubt as to the identity of that killer.
Roger Kibbe was sentenced to 25 years to life on May 10, 1991, with the provision that he must serve at least sixteen years and eight months before being eligible for parole. Later while being taken to his cell at Pleasant Valley State Prison, he reportedly told a guard “So I killed a few women, what's the big deal?”
But the State of California was not done with Kibbe yet. In March 2008, following a failed parole application, prosecutors announced that they were bringing new charges. These related to the murders of Lou Ellen Burleigh on September 11, 1977, Lora Heedick on April 21, 1986, Barbara Ann Scott on July 3, 1986, Stephanie Brown on July 15, 1986, Charmaine Sabrah on August 17, 1986, and Katherine Quinones on November 5, 1986.
Facing the very real prospect of the death penalty, Kibbe made a deal, confessing to the murders in exchange for life in prison. As part of the process he described his M.O. to police, saying that he’d cruise the Interstate for hours until he spotted a female driver he liked. He’d then race ahead, pull his vehicle to the side of the road and put the hood up, pretending he had car trouble. Any woman who stopped to help was as good as dead.
Roger Kibbe was sentenced to six consecutive life terms on November 4, 2009, and will never be released from prison. Investigators suspect his involvement in as many as 38 unsolved homicides.
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